David Price was supposed to be icing, the finishing piece of Detroit’s super quad.
This was a trio of Cy Young Award winners and a reigning ERA champ expected to bury the Kansas City Royals in the American League Central and, at minimum, equal the Oakland A’s staff in what quickly became the predicted matchup for the American League Championship Series.
Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Anibal Sanchez and Price. They were to lead on the mound. Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez would carry the offense. World Series, get ready for the return of the Tigers. Excitement in August.
I feel like I'm on my way to my first day of high school!! Nervous but yet excited...new chapter— David Price (@DAVIDprice14) August 2, 2014
But baseball has a way of kicking you when you’re on top. Remember, this is a game where guys who fail least become stars and where pitcher health is as fickle as a three-year-old’s appetite. So, World Series? Yeah, not so much right now.
The Tigers have lost eight of 14. They have gone from a four-game lead over the Royals when they traded for Price to a one-game deficit. The offense has gone soft. A porous defense is being exposed.
Verlander is hurt, and when healthy has had zero resemblance to the Cy Young winner he once was. Sanchez, who led the league in ERA last season, is on the disabled list.
The bullpen is so ridiculously bad for a contending team it almost negates any good start, and the failure to address that at the trade deadline might end up being as impactful as gaining Price. These problems have made Price the most critical acquisition by any team this season.
He went from the icing to the flour and eggs, a must-have ingredient every fifth game—or every fourth if needed—if the Tigers are going to retake divisional control and have any chance to fulfill those championship aspirations.
No longer can Price just slide in and be a complementary piece. He now has to be the main cog in the rotation.
Price has already given Detroit a dose of what he is capable of bringing, squaring up with Seattle ace and Cy Young favorite Felix Hernandez last weekend and allowing one run over eight innings in a win. The challenge is making that kind of outing the norm in the final six weeks of the regular season.
Detroit’s drastic change of direction since landing Price has shifted its needs. Now the Tigers are asking something historic of their newest marquee member, one they initially acquired to make a deep team even deeper instead out of necessity.
At the time of the trade, ZiPs projections had Price as a pretty good front-line pitcher but hardly a shutdown ace. But with Verlander and Sanchez out of the mix right now, those projected numbers will have to improve if Price is going to team with Scherzer to carry the Tigers into the postseason.
Despite what ZiPs projected at the time of Price’s trade, he is capable of living up to Detroit’s newfound needs. He has already posted two ace-like starts as a Tiger, and his career ERA in August (2.80) and September (2.99) are his lowest marks of any months.
Will the Tigers win the AL Central?
Making the outlook brighter is that if Price stays on schedule from here until the end of the regular season, he gets three turns against the Minnesota Twins, a team he’s posted a career 2.34 ERA against.
He also gets one against the Royals, a team he’s dominated over 22 career innings, having allowed just three earned runs in that time. The Tigers would need that trend to continue since it’s the Royals aiming to keep them from playing into October.
Price would also make two starts against the Chicago White Sox, a more daunting task since his career ERA against them is 3.69, and he was shelled in one start against the White Sox this season—eight runs, six earned—in six innings back in April.
Regardless of the lineup opposing him, Price is in a virtual must-win position every time he takes the ball because of the circumstances surrounding his arrival in Detroit. To no fault of his own, he is now the most critical acquisition of the season.
Anthony Witrado covers Major League Baseball for Bleacher Report. He spent the previous three seasons as the national baseball columnist at Sporting News, and four years before that as the Brewers beat writer for The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Follow Anthony on Twitter and talk baseball here.